You may know of Anna Biller’s singular style from her debut feature, Viva. It was a refreshingly faithful homage to the sexploitation grindhouse comedies of the 1960s and 1970s, but with a feminist twist. It was shot on 35mm, and talented Anna channeled a Robert Rodriguez “Rebel Without a Crew” philosophy in that she produced, wrote, directed, edited, starred in, did costumes, etc., etc. The movie became a cult hit.
We waited with bated breath for her next feature. It turned out to be a nine-year wait, but it was well worth it. The Love Witch is about Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a gorgeous young psychopath, who uses sex magic and witchcraft to find romance but reaps tragic consequences. What’s not to love?
Anna brings the same can-do acumen to The Love Witch, which premiered at The Aero Theater as the featured film at the 2016 Etheria Film Night.
We caught up with Anna Biller on the red carpet, and here’s what she had to say about The Love Witch. “It’s a horror movie, but there are lots of sub-genres. It’s a thriller and melodrama. I like to joke that it’s autobiographical, but that’s only partly true. My parents and my boyfriend are in the audience tonight for the screening, so I don’t want to say just how autobiographical it is!” [laughs]
“This idea of problems between the genders is where it came from originally,” Biller said, “and in wanting to make a modern-day femme fatale. The witch is a great icon to make a femme fatale from because she is so dangerous and she is so beautiful.”
Style is substance in Anna’s world, so “I wanted to tap into classic horror imagery.” The Hammer influence is definitely in evidence. She said she watched a lot of noir, and you’ll see nods to them in the movie and in the character of Elaine. “I wanted to tap into horror in another way, though, because the character is a sociopathic killer and she’s a seductress.”
When it comes to the witchcraft aspect, Anna did her homework. “It’s very authentic in terms of the ritual practices. I did a lot of study of witchcraft. I went to some rituals and classes, and I talked to a lot of witches and read a lot of books. There are some practicing witches in the movie, and they helped on set to make sure everything looked right. Though some witches may roll their eyes at the lab set-up [with all the beakers, bottles, and potions],” it’s for the visual and cinematic aspect, Anna explained. “It’s not supernatural at all, though. It’s realistic.”
While most of the research was fun and informative, “I learned some very dark things. I learned that things I thought were fairy tales are actually true. I learned that Satanic sacrifice and things like that are actually practiced and still going on. People say they’re not, that it’s only white magic now, but no… there are black witches and Satanic abuses. I didn’t put any of that in the movie, but I did learn about it.”
When it comes to the casting of a retro-fox, Samantha Robinson as Elaine is perfect. After the screening, we overheard people in the audience saying she reminded them of Ingrid Pitt and also Katharine Ross as she looked in The Stepford Wives. “She is pretty special,” Anna agreed, “and it’s just complete luck that I found her. She is incredibly beautiful, for one thing – just stunningly beautiful. She’s also really smart and has this amazing poise and diction. She used to be a dancer, which makes her carriage very poised and good posture, and she grew up in London, which gives her that crisp enunciation. She’s a natural; her training in the theater and how she grew up really sets her apart from most Hollywood and L.A. actresses. It makes her more reserved, which is perfect for the character.”
The Love Witch is not set in the 60s or 70s, but it’s not set in present day either. “There are cellphones and computers, but there are also classic cars and vintage dress. It looks retro. We shot it on 35mm and pay tribute to Technicolor, and our DP is classically trained, so it does look like a classic film,” Anna said.
The Love Witch has been picked up for distribution and will be getting a theatrical release. Those who saw it at Etheria Film Night consider themselves lucky to have been among the first to discover the rare gem – along with a handful of top-notch shorts which premiered in the second half of the evening.
Walking the red carpet, special guests included the Soska twins, Jackie Kong, Richard and Anastasia Elfman, the whole cast of The Love Witch, and many more. (Check out our exclusive photos by Aaron Kai below.)
As for the winners of the night, they included:
- Jackie Kong was awarded the 2016 Etheria Inspiration Award for being an amazing genre director.
- The 2016 Etheria Jury Award went to Jill Gevargizian’s horror short THE STYLIST. THE STYLIST also took home the 2016 Audience Award, followed closely by Mindy Bledsoe’s dark comedy HARD BROADS in second place.
- Olga Osorio’s science fiction time-travel tale RESTART was awarded the ISA STORY AWARD for best narrative.
- Toy Lei’s thrilling action short BOXER won the Artemis Award for Best Action.
As always, thanks to festival directors Heidi Honeycutt, Stacy Hammon, and Kaylee Viteo for showcasing the best new horror, science fiction, fantasy, action, and thriller films made by emerging women directors.